Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Of Demolished Schools - and Hasbara


An "intentional" demolition - Portland, Oregon, USA

A few days ago I walked across the campus of Portland State University, where bulldozers were tearing down an athletic building as part of a re-model project. Juxtaposed against this, when I got home, I opened my computer browser and read a story about the Bedouin "tire school" that was (again?  still?) under a demolition order (https://www.rt.com/news/356363-palestine-school-demolish-israel/).  

 And then I learned that, while still reeling from the recent demolitions in Sabastiya (see this blog, “Yet Another Sad Day in Sabastiya,” August 9, 2016), the farmers there are now dealing with a fire that destroyed more than 60,000 square meters planted in olive trees and other crops. 
 
Fire in Sebastiya (photo by Ahmad Kayed)
Destroying a school building to erect a newer one (as is happening here in Portland) is one thing – but wanton destruction of buildings or crops "just because" one can is another entirely!

In 2013, as part of my EAPPI orientation, we visited the “tire school,” located a short distance from Jerusalem.  It is so called because it was constructed of mud and tires, with materials and labor donated by the Italian government.   

Bedouin children, Khan al-Ahmar
The school, we were told, was built for the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar because it had become too dangerous for the children of the village to walk to the nearest Palestinian school.  I remember the pride with which the community showed us their school – and the happy faces of the children! 

The school, we were told then, has been under demolition orders almost since its inception – the “reason” probably that it was built without a permit, which is the usual “reason” given for demolitions of home, schools and businesses.  Of course, permits are almost never given for any sort of Palestinian construction, and demolitions are becoming increasingly common.  And, while most buildings are demolished because of the lack of a permit, an increasing number are being demolished as “corporate punishment,” to the families of suspected “terrorists.”
Tire School under demolition order

Remember, in Israel, one can be labelled a “terrorist” for throwing stones – or, as of the last few weeks when the most recent draconian legislation was passed by the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), for simply speaking out against the Israeli government.  Now, in Israel, those involved in the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a historically respected form of peaceful protest, can be punished – even jailed.   

Foreign aid organizations are suspect as are Israeli “peace activists,” and, with the encouragement of the so-called “Israel Lobby” in the US (and elsewhere!), BDS has become a target for those who would strip us of freedom of speech and expression. 

There is, I am told, a Hebrew word that describes what is happening here – hasbara, defined as “a form of propaganda aimed at an international audience.”  Hasbara is one of the major weapons in Israel’s “war” against BDS – and against those of us who would educate others about the ills of the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine.  Columnist James Wall describes this far better than I ever could (https://wallwritings.me/2016/08/23/israel-defends-its-false-narrative-against-bds/) and I recommend his writings for a thorough explanation of this issue.

Those of us who can do something about all of this are required by our sense of humanity and justice to do so.  That “something” can be as small as writing a letter – or saying a prayer.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Yet Another Sad Day in Sabastiya!


Sabastiya - "Before..."

Regular readers of this blog already know I have a soft spot for Sabastiya – a beautiful little town in the northern West Bank near which is sited a once world-famous (now sadly overlooked due to the Occupation) archeological site dating back to Roman times.  In previous postings, I’ve shared stories ranging from settlers dumping raw sewage on agricultural land to the deliberate burning of crops and olive trees, and lauded the courage and endurance of the townspeople. (See “Sabastiya, settlers and sewage,” March 26, 2013; “Sabastiya: A Happy Ending,” April 7, 2013; and “A(nother) Sad Story from Sabastiya,” June 30, 2013).

and "...After" (photo by Ahmad Kayed)
Today comes news of yet another attack on this special place - the IDF’s demolition of two structures located adjacent to the parking lot for the archeological site.  This first came to my attention in a Facebook post from Ahmad Kayed, a Palestinian friend who I first met when my EA team visited Sabastiya at the time of the sewage dumping.  Later, a news story gave me more details (https://www.facebook.com/imemcnews/?fref=nf&pnref=story&hc_location=ufi) 

A first-century church in the archeological site
Since my first visit to Sabastiya in 2013, I have returned there every time I visited Palestine.  I have brought other people there; have eaten in the now-destroyed restaurant and made purchases in the demolished shop.  I have also walked among the ruins and enjoyed the tranquility of this beautiful site.  So the news of these demolitions has brought the Occupation home in a personal, visceral way!  First I cried then I got angry!

Sabastiya should be recognized as the international treasure that it is.  It should be given World Heritage Site status, preserved and protected.  Instead, the Israeli government won’t even let the locals clean up trash that accumulates on the site from the few visitors it gets these days (As one can imagine, visits are down considerably from Sabastiya's peak as the Middle East’s most visited tourist destination in the early 60s!).  The IDF has encroached on the archeological site, destroying artifacts in a way that would bring jail time to anyone who did the same thing in Israel proper.  They will not allow international archeologists onto the site, either to preserve it or to establish it as a World Heritage site. 

An EA talks to a villager (photo by Ahmad Kayed)
And now this – deliberately destroying buildings and causing harm.  And for what?  Because they can!  Because this is Area C – in the full control of the Israeli military (as is well over half of Palestine!) – and destroying Palestinian property is the first step in “colonizing” the land – as they have already done in so many places and continue to do because nobody will stop them!

So I’m sad, and I’m angry, and I don’t know what else to do but to tell as many people about this as I can – and to hope someone is listening!!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Water, Water, Everywhere - NOT!!



I look out my window and it’s raining.  A gentle summer rain – actually unusual for Oregon in July, but not unheard of.  And then I read a solicitation, asking for contributions to something called “WASH” (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Program) through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and read that 668 million people throughout the world do not have “reliable access to clean drinking water.”

And, because the (illegal Israeli occupation of) Palestine is never far from my thoughts, my mind immediately flies to another “factoid” – that Gaza will run out of potable water by 2020.  Or sooner.  And that 95% of tap water in Gaza is already contaminated!

Yet the UMCOR appeal doesn’t mention Gaza.  It also doesn’t mention the West Bank – or the fact that the Israeli government is stealing the water from under the Palestinian land – even before it steals the land itself for its relentless, unceasing settlement building!  So I write to UMCOR to ask them if Gaza and/or Palestine are included in the WASH program.  And they tell me, “No; it is too difficult to get partners in Gaza.”

A few years ago, I was in Zimbabwe, in a small village near Victoria Falls.  The village was dry, brown and hot.  To get water, the women of the village would walk several miles to the nearest well, fill containers and carry them home on their heads.  Yet the grounds of the elegant Victoria Falls Hotel were green and lush, with sprinklers to keep the vegetation attractive to the rich tourists staying there. 

photo by Lisa Bender
But my correspondence with UMCOR doesn’t include a mention of Zimbabwe either – probably because it is “too difficult” to get partners in that politically and economically unstable place.

 (Later, someone else from UMCOR writes to tell me that there are some small projects that are doing limited work on water resources in the West Bank and Gaza, but they aren’t the sort of projects that are attracting the resources that WASH does.  I didn’t ask about Zimbabwe.)

At the United Methodist General Conference this May, the United Methodist Women sponsored a demonstration for water rights, highlighting the crisis in Flint, Michigan.  Local Palestinian rights activists immediately jumped on that bandwagon to add their voices, “From Flint to Gaza – Water is a Human Right!”  It wasn’t the first time this parallel had been made – and it won’t be the last!

For water is, indeed, a human right – and the basic necessity of life.  It shouldn’t be a political issue – we shouldn’t have to think about who will benefit from programs designed to provide this resource.  And just because it is difficult to find a “partner” on the ground to provide the services needed, that is no reason to turn to another location where the need may be as great, but may also be lesser, just because it is easier to get a “partner” there. 

There are no answers – only questions.  And if anyone reading this knows of anyone who is working to get clean water to the people of Gaza – and Zimbabwe and Palestine – please let me know!